In the 16 years since the launch of Observer Food Monthly, the British food scene has changed beyond all recognition. Artisan coffee shops are now a feature of many high streets, both well-known chains and relatively new franchises have expanded aggressively, independent gastropubs and eateries have exploded in number, and supermarket shelves are stacked with exotic ingredients catering to every fad diet imaginable. It feels as if we have more choice than ever before.

In a sector which is at risk of becoming oversaturated, the ‘modern gastronomer’ can now be increasingly discerning when indulging in Britain’s new favourite pastime. With nearly a quarter of people in the UK eating fast food every week, eateries are adapting and reacting to consumer demand, with such things as new delivery services expanding on the classic takeaway. Fast food and café chains are catering to adventurous eaters with added healthy or premium options, whilst the expectation amongst consumers is to offer convenience, health, taste and experience.

gourmet fast food bird(Bird’s Chicken Waffle Burger – image credit: Bird)

What’s driving this relentless trend towards gourmet fast food? There are numerous factors at play, but we believe two in particular are key driving forces.

First of all, Britain’s citizens appear to be developing increasingly discerning tastes. Simply observe the inexorable rise of craft beer over the past few years, and you’ll see how the modern British consumer is more willing than ever to spend more to get better quality, locally produced, well branded products. Fried chicken, burgers, fish & chips, hot dogs, even the humble steak slice; almost all of our fast food favourites have been given the ‘craft’ treatment in the last few years, and the trend doesn’t show any sign of slowing.

gourmet fast food hawksmoor(Hawksmoor’s Steak Slice – image credit: Hawksmoor)

The other cornerstone of the growth in gourmet fast food is closely tied to recent wellness trends. More than ever, British consumers want food that is both healthy and ethical. Cosmopolitan Brits are increasingly responsible, both for the environment and for their own health, and are projecting these desires into the fast food they’re buying. Pret A Manger, for example, recorded a 14.5% increase in sales in 2015, largely thanks to its new focus on healthy eating and organic, fair trade ingredients. Their ‘Veggie Pret’ in Soho proved so successful, in fact, that the pop-up has now become a permanent fixture. More and more outlets are following suit by offering up greener, healthier options, and seeing positive results.

For FMCG brands to ride this potentially lucrative trend, they need to do more than just offer a £20 veggie burger. Modern consumers crave authenticity, honesty, and a brand they can connect with. Blending all of these ingredients with a dose ethical responsibility, provenance, craftsmanship and quality, and you’re onto a surefire winner. Easy, right?